Cycling Safety Tips from a Year Round Commuter


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effective strategies for cycling safely, especially in traffic. Build confidence, ride more effectively. Take the fear out of riding in traffic. Use your bike more often as a friendlier way of transportation.

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Cycling Safety Tips from a Year Round Commuter

  1. 1. be safe! - cycle-wise /be-safe Tips and Tricks to Maximize Your Safety While Riding Introduction When it comes right down to it, each of us is responsible for our own safety when cycling. There are a lot of variables we can’t control, such as the actions of motorists, pedestrians and other cyclists (much as we’d like to!). But there are things we can do to mitigate potential risks, as well as being well prepared for other variables such as inclement weather and poor road conditions. The strategies in this section are distilled from our experiences of literally decades of road riding, as well as extensive research. We’ve studied the most common types of car / cyclist accidents that occur and have learned to give ourselves the best possible advantage. And while we fully understand there will always be circumstances beyond our control, we firmly believe being educated and obsessively prepared can only increase our chances of a safe ride. Once again, it’s you that is ultimately responsible for your own safety. There may be some strategies outlined here that you don’t agree with – and that’s completely fine, don’t follow those! This section is meant as a guide, definitely not a set of hard and fast rules. But do realize you will need techniques and procedures to rely on for the various situations you’ll face on the bike. Because regardless of the extent of the bike path network in the area you live, there will be a point on virtually every ride where you’ll be interacting with traffic. And that’s what this section is devoted to. Couple of thoughts before we get into the strategies themselves. While we never advocate riding on a sidewalk, we’re completely supportive of walking your bike on the sidewalk. We’ve done it before and will do it again. If you ever find yourself in a situation you’re not comfortable with, pull over and stop (when safe to do so), dismount and walk your bike on the sidewalk. Wait until the situation, whatever it is, subsides. Your safety is more important than a minor delay. Next, just because another cyclist does it doesn’t mean it’s okay! We’ve all seen this in action – blowing through four way stops, red lights, swerving in and out of traffic, cutting off pedestrians and other cyclists, and the list goes on. Always follow your own best judgement. If it feels like a bad idea, it usually is! Now let’s look at some tips and techniques to maximize your safety and riding effectiveness when on the roads. Pre – Ride Maintain, maintain, maintain. Okay this may sound boring. But it’s not (all) boring. You gotta keep your ride reasonably clean. Helps all the bits do their job. And mainly, make sure the tires are up to pressure, before each ride. And also keep checking your brakes to make sure they’re well adjusted. Never fun to find either of these key safety areas are not in optimal shape when you really need to rely on them – trust us. Lastly, keep your chain cleaned and lubed. May only need to do so once a week in the summer, and as often as daily in the winter. Got it? Good. Treat your bike as well as you would your child and it’ll take care of you. Hard Skills Ya know that saying ‘it’s like riding a bike?’ Forget it. Most casual riders have no idea of the skills they’ll actually need to employ when riding regularly. Let’s look at some of them, and how you can practice them. 1.) The Shoulder Check – essential when riding in traffic. Can’t trust a mirror, there are always blind spots. Before changing lanes or even slightly moving into traffic, you HAVE to do a shoulder check. Thing is, when you turn your head, your bike wants to follow. You need to learn how to keep your bike in a straight line with ZERO swerve while doing a shoulder check. Trick is to keep a reasonably firm grip on the bars while turning your head. This is a skill that needs practice, preferably in a parking lot on a quiet Sunday. Do it beside a painted line until you can get a full view behind you without your bike sliding over. 2.) Skid Control. Like it or not, once in a while you’re going to be forced to lock up your brakes in an ‘omg’ moment. At which time your bike will go into a skid. This is fun if you know what to do, and terrifying if you don’t. So practice it. First step, empty parking lot. Get up to speed, and lock up your brakes. Same principles in controlling a bike in a skid as a car – release the brakes, no more forward power engaged, and keep the front wheel straight. Once you’ve got that mastered, go out the next time and do it in
  2. 2. WET conditions. That’ll make you an expert. 3.) Cornering in crappy conditions. Ever have issues cornering at any sort of speed in wet or icy conditions? There’s an app for that too. It’s just a slightly modified riding technique. In these types of conditions, you have to use the handlebars to turn as opposed to leaning. And as a cyclist, this is COMPLETELY UN-INTUITIVE. So it needs practice. Here’s what you do in wet and / or icy conditions. You shift your weight back. Way back. To the point where your butt is nearly falling off the back of the saddle. And you sit up. Way up. These 2 motions will severely impact your body’s impact to lean. And then, when you corner, you’ll be forced to simply turn the bars. The result of this type of turn keeps a much higher percentage of your tire’s surface on the road, maximizing traction. And this increased traction will get you through the corner in safety – sure it’ll feel slower, but you’ll stay upright. Again, practice, practice, practice. Positioning on the Road In a nutshell, stay off the curb! While it’s true cyclists should stay as far to the right as possible, the actual accepted wisdom is that location is 3 feet off of the curb. Yet everyday we see riders so close to the curb they’re practically bouncing their ankle off the sidewalk. Let’s examine in practical terms why this is a bad practice: * You can’t ride ‘predictably’. The area closest to the curb is where nasty things like sewer grates tend to live. So every few metres, a cyclist that rides tight to the curb has to swerve outwards to avoid this obstacle. And this is not only dangerous to the cyclist, but very unnerving to motorists. Car drivers much prefer a cyclist who maintains a relatively straight line. * The curb is where the crap is. Due to the cambered nature of most roads and the sweeping action of car tires, all road debris and rubble ends up tight to the curb. Nasty things like sticks, rocks and glass, alongside assorted garbage, all waiting to take a bite out of your tire. Riding tight to the curb increases the chance of a flat and the dangers that can provide in traffic. * You’re less visible. Not just to motorists behind you, but especially to motorists at upcoming intersections looking to turn into your path. In fact in some cases you may be practically invisible to upcoming motorists if you’re riding very tight to the curb, especially around bends in the road and in wintery conditions where snow banks further limit visibility. * You provide ZERO incentive for passing motorists to slow or move slightly away. If a cyclist rides tight to the curb, in most cases this provides sufficient room for motorists to pass without slowing or pulling out even slightly. But ‘sufficient’ room to a motorist may not be ‘sufficient’ to a cyclist. Add to that the fact the motorist thinks the path is clear and they simply won’t slow down. And if the motorist is going 20 over the limit anyway, this creates a dangerous and scary passing scenario. Now, let’s look at the advantages of cycling 3 feet off of the curb: Referring to the above points, when you ride in this fashion, you’ll go a long way to promoting your safety. You’ll be riding in a fairly straight line, making your path predictable to motorists so they can adjust accordingly. You’ll drastically reduce the chances of a flat caused by road debris or nasty potholes or sewer grates (all of which can cause you to become somewhat forcibly extricated from your bike, which is never good). You’re now much more visible to motorists in all directions. Your position will encourage motorists to either slow when passing, or pull out when passing, or in best case scenarios, both! You’ll also drastically reduce your chances of becoming involved in a common cycling vs car accident known as the ‘right hook’. In this scenario a car overtakes you only to make a right turn at an upcoming intersection. Because they suddenly slow and think you’re well out of the picture, when their car turns if you don’t adjust immediately you can be hit. But by riding 3 feet off the curb, that same motorist will usually slow or pull out to pass, meaning they won’t have time to cut in and make a sudden right turn. Quite honestly the concept of cycling 3 feet of the curb can be unnerving for many riders who’ve spent most of their road riding time hugging the curb. It seems anti-intuitive that by moving further into a lane one will increase their safety. But for all of the above reasons this is a tested technique. When some of our team tried it for the first time, they couldn’t believe the immediate positive response. Nearly instantly, motorists gave wider berths and slowed when passing. Plus once one becomes more comfortable riding in this position in the lane, it becomes a lot easier to transition into taking the lane when necessary, which is what we’ll discuss next.